WASHINGTON, D.C. -- When Sgt. Dakota Meyer, former Marine scout sniper, now a construction worker, was awarded the nation’s highest honor, his teammates were there to personally congratulate him.
One of his teammates, Staff Sgt. Jason A. Richards, heavy equipment chief, Combat Logistics Battalion 5, Combat Logistics Regiment 1, 1st Marine Logistics Group, who deployed with Meyer, attended the ceremony to show his support and watch the President award Meyer.
“It was an honor to be there,” said Richards, 34, from Marion, Ind. “They recognized our fallen teammates and the other Marines that were there that day. It was a good ceremony, very professional.”
Richards added, “Seeing the President put the Medal of Honor on his neck, I couldn’t be more proud. Also it felt good to have some of the old team back together again … It would’ve been nicer if everyone could have made it.”
According to his citation, Meyer, 23, from Greenburg, Ky., was recognized for heroic actions while deployed to Kunar province, Afghanistan, Sept. 8, 2009. Meyer, a corporal at the time, risked his life by charging into a dangerous area, riddled by enemy fire, time and time again in order to retrieve the remains of his fallen comrades, saving the lives of 13 Marines and Army soldiers, along with 23 Afghan soldiers.
For that heroic act of selflessness, President Barrack Obama awarded Meyer the Medal of Honor at a ceremony in the White House, Sept. 15. Meyer, now in the Marine reserves working in construction, became the first living Marine to receive the award since the Vietnam War.
“We’re extraordinarily proud of Sgt. Dakota Meyer,” said Obama. “Today is only the third time during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that a recipient of the Medal of Honor has been able to accept it in person.”
For two years, Meyer blamed himself for not rushing in early enough to save everyone’s life, Obama explained to guests, before turning to Meyer.
“Dakota, I know you've grappled with the grief of that day, that you said your efforts were somehow a failure because your teammates didn't come home,” Obama said to Meyer during the ceremony. “But as your Commander-in-Chief and on behalf of everyone here today and all Americans, I want you to know it's quite the opposite.”
Meyer said he did what any other Marine would have done.
“It’s a mixture between our training and morals,” he told a local television station. “My brothers were in there, and you don’t leave anyone behind … There’s not a time that I thought they would all be dead when I got in there, but that’s just how it happened.”
Looking back to that day, Richards said he is very proud of his teammate, Meyer, for what he did to recover those who sacrificed their lives.
“I’m glad he got recognized for it,” Richards said. “There were a lot of Americans and Afghans in there that day and what he did saved those lives.”
Meyer said he was honored to receive the Medal of Honor, but he wanted to dedicate the award to the lives that were lost that day.
“It’s a great honor getting the Medal of Honor, but it’s not for me,” Meyer told a reporter. “It’s for them, the Marine Corps, the Marines that are serving and the Marines that will serve.”
During the ceremony, Obama took time to pay tribute to Meyer’s fallen comrades.
“Dakota says he’ll accept this medal in their name,” said Obama. “So today, we remember the husband who loved the outdoors, Lt. Michael Johnson; the husband and father they called ‘Gunny J’ – Gunnery Sgt. Edwin Johnson; the determined Marine who fought to get on that team, Staff Sgt. Aaron Kenefick; the medic who gave his life tending to his teammates, Hospitalman [Petty Officer] Third Class James Layton; and a soldier wounded in that battle who never recovered, Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook.”
As a Medal of Honor recipient, Meyer was inducted into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes, Sept. 16. Yet, he’s still humbled and continues to work as a construction worker. He wears a metal bracelet every day in honor of those who made the ultimate sacrifice that day, for the Marine Corps and for American freedom.
“Sergeant Meyer embodies all that is good about our nation's Corps of Marines,” said Gen. James F. Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, in a message to all Marines. “He is a living example of the brave young men and women whose service, fidelity and sacrifice make us so proud. [His] heroic actions on Sept. 8, 2009 in the Ganjgal village, Afghanistan serve as an inspiration to all Marines and will forever be etched in our Corps' rich legacy of courage and valor.”